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Uden case solved after 33 years; man arrested in Missouri

Oct 1, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fourth murder comes to light as bizarre 'cold case' finally breaks

It's been 33 years since the disappearance of Riverton resident Virginia Uden and her two sons. Evidence at the time pointed to murder, but authorities never could discover who did it.

Until now.

Virginia Uden's ex-husband and her children's adopted father, Gerald Uden, was arrested Friday in Chadwick, Mo., on three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of the missing woman and her two boys, Reagan, 10, and Richard, 11.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett had filed the charges that same day.

On Friday, Gerald Uden, now 71 years old, told investigators that on Sept. 12, 1980, he picked up Virginia Uden, who was 32, and the boys from 123 Williams Road near Pavillion. They drove a short distance before all four got out, according to an affidavit in the case.

Gerald Uden confessed that he shot and killed his ex-wife with a .22-caliber rifle before turning the gun on Reagan and Richard, he said.

Gerald Uden told investigators that he concealed the bodies afterward. He also said he had planned the murders, even asking Virginia Uden to bring the rifle to go bird hunting.

Second case

The search for Virginia Uden and her sons also led authorities to crack another decades-old cold case.

While investigating the first case in January 1996, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent Lynn Callaghan and Fremont County Sheriff's Det. Dave King learned that Alice Uden, Gerald Uden's current wife, might have killed her ex-husband, Ronald Holtz, who had disappeared in 1974 or 1975.

Law enforcement officials also arrested Alice Uden, 74, on Thursday in Chadwick, Mo., on a first-degree murder charge out of Laramie County in connection with the death of Holtz. Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar declined to say whether the murders are connected.

Authorities think Holtz, then 25, was killed between Dec. 24, 1974, and Feb. 5, 1975.

Alice Uden, then known as Alice Scott, married Holtz on Sept. 17, 1974. They divorced in July 1975.

Gerald Uden married Virginia Uden in 1974 and adopted the two boys in 1975, but the couple divorced before the trio's disappearance on Sept. 12, 1980.

Virginia Uden had lived in Riverton but moved to New Jersey with her children before she died. Gerald Uden had lived for a time in Pavillion.

Alice and Gerald Uden have been incarcerated in Christian County, Missouri, pending extradition to Wyoming.

Decades-long search

Gerald Uden's arrest brings to an end a decades-long search for his victims in a case that was a sensation locally at the time.

Law enforcement officials began their investigation three weeks after Virginia Uden and her children vanished and her 1973 Ford Country Squire station wagon was found pushed off the road in the remote Trout Creek Canyon area in the Shoshone National Forest.

The vehicle was found down a steep embankment, wedged between trees, and covered in freshly cut pine boughs. Rags and paper were stuffed into the car's gas tank. Former Fremont County Sheriff Tim McKinney thought at the time that someone had pushed the car off a cliff and tried to set it on fire.

In another twist, Lander resident Rob Denhardt said he had seen the vehicle several times in the two weeks before law enforcement found it. Denhardt said he did not know of the investigation and said the vehicle was not covered in branches when he first noticed it.

The vehicle's backseat was drenched in blood that matched Virginia Uden's blood type. The vehicle's license plates, ignition key, two blankets and a gasoline can were missing, and the headlights had been broken out.

False messages

The sheriff's office and search and rescue personnel began looking for the victims after the car's discovery.

Claire Martin, Virginia Uden's mother, already was worried about her daughter on Sept. 12, 1980.

Martin received a call from Gerald Uden at 9:30 p.m. that day saying his ex-wife and their children had not arrived at 2 p.m. in Pavillion to go bird hunting as they had planned.

Martin reported them missing, and then began to receive dubious communications about Virginia Uden's whereabouts. Before the car was discovered, a woman in Illinois contacted Martin saying her daughter had been in that state, according to reports at the time in The Ranger.

Martin also received a Mailgram saying her daughter was in New Jersey, but the message was unsigned.

The official investigation slowed by early 1981. A psychic from Glenrock visited Fremont County in January 1981, but she failed to lead law enforcement to any evidence.

Martin herself offered a reward for information about her family members' disappearance. She continued to contact other psychics for assistance and ultimately hired a private investigator as well.

Martin died April 4, just months before resolution came to the mystery that took her family away.

Archaeological dig

A University of Wyoming Archaeology professor and eight of his students joined the search in 2008. Sheriff's office Sgt. Jerry Evagelatos at the time said evidence regarding the disappearances may have be buried under an old hog pen at a rural property east of Pavillion that Gerald Uden once owned.

Archaeologists and law enforcement started excavating the 40 square feet on May 19, 2008, and kept digging for more than two weeks. Heavy rain, snow and hot temperatures slowed the effort.

During that time, workers from the university, the Fremont County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's office scooped earth into buckets and sieved it through a screen to reveal buried items. Officials sent some of what was uncovered to a lab for further analysis. Nothing conclusive could be found.

Arrests

The arrest of Alice Uden came one month after law enforcement found Holtz's body and six years after a witness showed authorities where it was.

In 1989, a witness told police that in 1975 or 1976 Uden said she shot her ex-husband with a .22-caliber rifle in the back of the head while he slept, according to an affidavit from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Uden said she wrapped Holtz in blankets and placed his body in a cardboard barrel, the witness said.

Uden then dumped the body in an abandoned gold mine shaft on the Remont Ranch in Laramie County.

On Nov. 1, 2007, the witness brought DCI special agent Tom Wachsmith to the mine shaft to which they believed Uden referred. Wachsmith photographed the mine shaft.

Authorities performed an excavation of the mine shaft Aug. 27 and found human remains, the affidavit stated. The body's DNA matched that of Holtz's family members, a small caliber gunshot to the back of the head was determined to be the cause of death, and a .22-caliber bullet was found in the skull.

RELATED CONTENT

Oct. 16: Uden waives preliminary hearing; he'll be bound over for murder

Oct. 13: Past sheriff King spent years on Uden case

Oct. 10: Original Uden probe used psychics, past sheriff recalls

Oct. 8: Uden arrives in county; bond denied by judge

Oct. 6: With Uden case cracked, past sheriffs recall years of worry

Oct. 2: Suspects lived 'untouchable' in Missouri

Opinion: Cold cases -- Three of them have 'warmed up' virtually at the same time

Letters: Break in the Uden case is 'nothing short of incredible'

Obituary: Claire 'Peg' C. Martin

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Fremont County
Gerald Uden